Cardiac Tamponade | Signs, Symptoms & Treatment | MedStar Health

Pressure on the heart caused by fluid building up in the pericardium

The pericardium is a thin membrane that surrounds your heart. When blood or fluid builds up in this membrane, it can put pressure on your heart and prevent it from expanding fully. This makes it more difficult to pump enough blood throughout your body.

Cardiac tamponade requires immediate medical attention to relieve the pressure on your heart and prevent death. Symptoms vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Chest pain, which can extend to the shoulders, neck, and abdomen (belly)

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Fainting or dizziness

  • Heart palpitations, or the sensation that the heart rate is skipping, slowing down, or racing

  • Pale or blue skin


What can cause cardiac tamponade?

Possible causes for cardiac tamponade include:


Cardiac tamponade is often diagnosed using imaging procedures that can be done bedside before treating the condition.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.
Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.


Cardiac tamponade is treated by removing the fluid putting pressure on the heart. Your doctor may recommend additional treatments to prevent the condition from returning in the future.

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